Part 2 of a 5 part Series…
Please refer to archived post for previous blog. This is from a document written by a pastor from 4 years ago.
As the pastor serving Green Pines and teaching the word of God, there seems to be an understanding in Scripture of church authority that I don’t see in this local expression of the church. And so I want to present some statements to you that are right there in Scripture. These are not statements original to me, but are clearly connected to the verses included. John Piper was instrumental in helping me see the simplicity of these statements. I bring this Scripture to you to consider and pray together.
1. Jesus Christ is the head of his church.
So the church is like a body that gets its leadership and its nourishment from its head, Jesus Christ. The church is not a mere human organization. It is not a mere organization because it is an organism, a body. And it is not merely human, because its head is divine; the life he gives is supernatural life. So the way a church is run should not simply copy the way a human organization is run. There should be structures and practices that let Christ the head govern, lead, and nurture his church. Our structures should flow from who Christ has declared us to be. He has declared us as His fellowship, body, flock, and bride. Therefore the structure should point to unity, operate by Spiritual gifting, be led by shepherds, and revolve around Christ. A bad structure may emphasis differences and restrict ministry changes, and revolve around tradition.
This governance was given through the authority of the apostles and their close associates (Ephesians 2:20; 1 Corinthians 2:12-13; 7:17; 14:37-38; 2 Thessalonians 3:14). Today Christ still rules through the words of his apostles as they are given to us in the inspired writings of the New Testament. Therefore, we want to conform the structure and procedures and spirit of church governance as closely as possible to New Testament guidelines. The end goal is to promoting the glory of God and the proclamation of the gospel (1 Corinthians 10:31; Philippians 1:25).
This governance is also mediated through the Holy Spirit.
2. All the members of Christ’s body are Priests and Ministers.
1 Peter 2:9, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Revelation 1:5–6, “He loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever.”
The New Testament does not teach the priesthood of the clergy. 1 Timothy 2:5, “There is one God and there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” We all go directly to God through Christ, not through professional priests nor through Mary. Every Christian is a priest under Jesus Christ.
And every Christian is a minister. The word “minister” does not define my pastoral office in the church. It defines my function. And it defines your function. Ephesians 4:12 says that pastors and teachers exist to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry.” You are all ministers (cf. 1 Peter 4:10–11). And you are all priests (cf. Matthew 23:8–11).
A good church structure will free the members to the primary ministry of the church, which is to make disciple-making disciples of Christ. Therefore secondary ministry (those which support the primary ministry) should be kept minimal to allow more time on the primary ministry.
3. Under Christ the local congregation is the final authority in the church.
I don’t mean that the congregation is above the Scriptures, because the Scriptures are the word of Christ. We submit to Christ by submitting to his word in the Bible. Nor do I mean that the congregation is above the Holy Spirit, because the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. We submit to Christ by submitting to his Spirit in the church.
What I mean is that under Christ—his Word and his Spirit—the congregation, and not church officers, is the body that settles matters of faith and life. This is not only implied in the priesthood of all believers, but illustrated in Matthew 18:15–17 where the church is the last court of appeal in church discipline:
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 5:4–5.)
So the church—the congregation—is the final court of appeal in matters of church discipline where decisions about membership are made. Since this is the most basic authority in the church under Christ, this shows that the congregation as a body is the final authority in the local church. This does not mean local churches shouldn’t form associations and fellowships for mutual encouragement and guidance and ministry. It only means that the local congregation decides its own matters under the Word and Spirit of Christ.
So far then, Christ is the head of the church. All members of his body are priests and ministers. And therefore these members, as a congregation, are the final authority in the church under Christ, that is, under his Word and Spirit.
4. God calls some members of each congregation to feed and lead the church as servants of Christ and his people.
In other words, even though there is equality before God as children and heirs and priests and ministers, some, and not all, are called by God to serve as leaders. For example,
Hebrews 13:7, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life and imitate their faith.”
Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account.”
1 Thessalonians 5:12, “We beseech you, brethren, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.”
Acts 20:28 (speaking to the elders of Ephesus), “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God.”
So the congregation, under Christ and by his Word and Spirit, uses its authority to recognize and affirm leaders whom God calls. And then the congregation puts those people in positions of leadership and voluntarily supports that leadership by learning from their teaching and following their initiatives.
This may sound to some like a contradiction—to have an authoritative congregation submitting to leaders that it puts in place. But it isn’t a contradiction. Because there is a great difference between leadership that inspires and models and mobilizes and teaches and persuades and points the way in ministry and mission, and the corporate authority of the congregation that puts doctrinal and moral boundaries around that leadership and holds it accountable to serve the good of the church. Congregational authority and strong leadership under that authority are not incompatible. They are biblical, and they are vital.